'Alexa, suggest a cocktail'
The Amazon Echo smart speaker and its Alexa assistant can be useful in most rooms of the home, playing music, reading the news, acting as a morning alarm, and playing games.
But the kitchen is arguably where Alexa can be most useful. As well as the assistant's baked-in abilities to convert measurements, keep track of several timers at once, and talk to many smart appliances, there is a wide range of 'skills' — apps for Alexa — to look up recipes, suggest cocktails, pair wines and more.
Here is the GearBrain guide to how Alexa can help you in the kitchen.
Make a grocery shopping list
First up, Alexa is good at keeping lists. Whether this is a to-do list, items you want to buy from Amazon, or a list kept in apps like Evernote, Alexa has you covered.
Without any previous setup, all you have to do is say: "Alexa add [item] to my shopping/grocery list" and she'll do exactly that. The lists you keep can be viewed in the Alexa smartphone app at any time.
Alternatively, you can have these lists sync up to a range of list-making services, like Any.do, Cozi Lists, Picniic and Todoist. With a bit of IFTTT (If This, Then That) magic, Evernote can join the party, too.
Set multiple timers
This is also a simple one; just say: "Alexa, set a timer for [X] minutes" and she will alert you when it reaches zero. However, give the timer a name and you can then set several at once. Say: "Alexa, set a timer for [task]" and she will ask for how long. Say the length of the timer you want, and it will start. You can add more by giving each a different name, then ask how long is left for each, or cancel a specific one at any time.
Alexa can convert almost any measurement into a different unit. Say: "Alexa, how many grams is five ounces?" and she'll tell you. You can even ask more complex questions, like "how much does a cup of flour weigh?"
Get cooking times
Alexa gets the answers to this section in a variety of ways. For simple questions, like "How long does it take to poach an egg?," she can tell you without looking it up. More complex questions, like asking how long it takes to roast a chicken, will use Reference.com to find your answer.
This is where the huge Alexa Skills catalogue begins to shine. Alexa doesn't have any recipes baked in, but if you head to the Alexa app or the Amazon website, you can enable a wide range of recipe skills.
We installed Recipedia, which springs into action when we ask for a wide range of meals, from omelettes to coq au vin. After finding the recipe, Alexa tells you how long it will take to prepare and cook, how many it serves, and what its difficulty rating is.
Once you have decided on a recipe, you can have Alexa read out each instruction then ask her to move to the next step when you are ready. Alternatively, you can read the instructions yourself from the Alexa app. We have found this format is how most of Alexa's recipe skills work.
There are a handful of Alexa skills for pairing wine with food. Wine Guru works surprisingly well, offering some good options when we asked to pair a wine with a meal. You can also ask for more information, which prompts Alexa to read out a useful paragraph or so about the chosen wine.
We also found WineWhich to work quite well, but it is fairly basic in its execution and will only be helpful to those who know very little about wine. That said, if you are short on ideas for your evening meal and fancy trying something different, Alexa might suggest a grape variety you hadn't thought of before.
Make a coffee
There are several smart coffee makers to pick from, including the $169 Behmor Connected, which can be asked to make you a drink by speaking to Alexa; there's also a smartphone app for more control.
Alternatively, you could plug a regular coffee maker into a smart plug and control that with Alexa, but you'll need to make sure the machine starts working the moment it is switched on at the socket, or Alexa won't be able to help.
The Bar is a skill for making cocktails. Once the skill has been launched (say: "Alexa, open The Bar"), you can pick a specific cocktail to hear a list of ingredients and instructions, or answer a series of questions to help Alexa pick a drink for you. The skill starts by asking what main spirit you'd like to use, then asks if you'd like a long and light drink, or a short, stronger one, then finally if you fancy sweet or sour.
As with food recipes, the skill waits for you to say you are ready for the next instruction, so it's easy enough to follow at your own pace.
Remind you to take the garbage out
Alexa can be asked to remind you of just about anything, which can be handy if you're always forgetting to take the garbage out. Just say: "Alexa, remind me to take the garbage out at 8am every Thursday" then Alexa will remind you out-loud, and via the smartphone app at the right time.